The Philip Glass Ensemble brought its maximal minimalism to the Warner Theatre last night, highlighting excerpts from Glass' much-ballyhooed stage productions "Einstein on the Beach," "Akhnaten" and "the CIVIL warS." Compared with past performances here, this one gave a wider perspective of the composer's craft. More pieces were presented, and their diversity in color helped offset the extreme repetition that defines the "minimalist" school.
It is no accident that Glass has made quite a name for himself in recent years. He takes the most basic music elements and retools them to build imposing structures deceptively simple to the ear, but extremely difficult to coordinate in an ensemble. Thus "The Olympian," commissioned for the 1984 Summer Games, made a favorable impression using essentially three chords -- B minor, D and E -- permuted sequentially and in voicing to coincide with the ultrasubtle rhythmic shifts.
A nod from Glass, stationed behind his synthesizer, was as good as a conductor's downbeat to cue the other players in the octet for a dazzling performance of "Akhnaten's" funeral scene, featuring throbbing electronic percussion. As a change of pace, soprano saxophonists Jon Gibson and Jack Kripl traded and harmonized luxurious melodies in the placid "Facades."
For the encore, Glass presented "Spaceship" from "Einstein on the Beach." A pictorial segment capped by rising and falling unison lines, it perhaps best proved that minimalism, a so-called medium of tedium, in the right hands can be an oasis of stasis.